The Perfect Fire

Eleven years ago, on December 3, 1999, six Worcester, Mass. firefighters died while trying to rescue two homeless people from the abandoned Worcester Cold Storage building.

Sean Flynn’s essay from the July 2000 issue of Esquire is perhaps one of the finest pieces of journalism of the decade.

Late autumn had been a slow stretch for the men working under Mike McNamee, the gray-haired forty-nine-year-old chief of Group II, North End District, Worcester Fire Department. They had spent their shifts cooking and cleaning and sleeping, interrupted only by sporadic milk runs and false alarms. The night of December 3, 1999, was quiet enough for McNamee to tend to his bureaucratic duties, riding shotgun in a Ford Expedition to the far-flung stations, retrieving vacation requests from the rank and file. Once his aide, George Zinkus Jr., had wheeled him to all six stations in the district, they would return to Central Station, where dinner, twenty-five pounds of beef, was roasting in the oven.

Thirteen minutes after six o’clock, McNamee’s Expedition–or Car 3, as it is officially known–was on Clark Street, in the northern reaches of the city, Zinkus steering it toward the Greendale Station, when the first tone sounded. McNamee cocked his head toward the radio. A second tone, then a third. “Striking box 1438, Franklin and Arctic, for a fire at 266 Franklin,” the dispatcher deadpanned. “Engine 1, Engine 6, Engine 12, Engine 13, Ladder 1, Ladder 5, Rescue 1, Car 3.”

McNamee and Zinkus stared at each other, brows arched, eyes wide. “That’s a bad building,” McNamee said. He let out a breath, said it again. “Bad building.”

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